ORONO — When Devin Clark and Carlton Charles were redshirt freshmen, they could look up as they entered the University of Maine football locker room and see the Brice-Cowell Musket.

They are fifth-year seniors now, and they’ve been gazing up at an empty spot on the shelf ever since.

The Black Bears get another shot to reclaim their most coveted prize Saturday, when rival New Hampshire comes to Alfond Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. The winner gets the musket. The loser shoulders the regret.

Clark, a defensive tackle who may get the start in place of an injured Matthew Wilson, left no doubt who has a rightful claim to the weapon.

“They have our musket,” he said Tuesday, then reiterated it for emphasis.

“Yes, OUR musket, the University of Maine’s football musket.”

Maine (5-5, 4-3 Colonial Athletic Association) has lost 11 of its past 12 meetings against its chief rival. Two of those losses came last year, when the Wildcats kept the musket and then took away Maine’s hopes for a national championship by winning a playoff game here.

New Hampshire (9-1, 7-0) enters this game ranked No. 1 in the nation, the first visitor to hold that distinction since Richmond came to Alfond in 2009.

Clark said there’s a noticeable difference at practice this week.

“I don’t care what team we ever play, it could be an SEC school, but when it comes to UNH, it’s a whole different vibe, and you feel it,” he said. “The preparation, the energy out on the field, even the coaches’ energy, is higher.”

Maine coach Jack Cosgrove doesn’t intend to remind his seniors that they’ve never won the musket. Maine most recently had it after an overtime victory in 2010.

“They know that. It’s almost like you’re kicking them in the ass to tell them about it,” Cosgrove said. “We haven’t had a lot of success against this team, let’s face it. It’s not something we’re proud of. It’s known, the futility is known by every class.”

Maine won its third consecutive game Saturday, 24-17 at Elon. New Hampshire has won nine straight and will be making its 11th playoff appearance in a row no matter what happens Saturday.

For Black Bears like Charles, a fullback out of Windham, it will be their swan song. To end their careers with a win against New Hampshire would bring unspeakable joy.

“It would be a great way go out. It would be a great way for the team to go into the offseason, to get ready for next year with that under their belt. It would be great to have the musket back in the locker room,” Charles said.

Still, he’s trying to stay on an even keel this week. Charles believes surrendering to the hype surrounding the game has been Maine’s undoing.

“If we think about it too much, we’re going to get in the game, we’re going to lose focus and the game is going to get away from us,” he said. “We have to treat this like a normal week.”

Fourth quarters have been decisive in recent games in this series. Maine lost 24-3 and 41-27 last year, but was within a touchdown each time after three quarters. The Wildcats’ previous four wins against Maine were by a touchdown or less.

Cosgrove said the Black Bears need to keep the game close again, and then play the best quarter of their lives.

If they do, Clark, who weighs in at 295 pounds, can already imagine what victory will taste like.

“That would just put the A-1 sauce on the steak right there,” he said.

When Cosgrove was informed that Clark had spoken about “our musket,” a sly smile spread across his face.

“All right, well, we’ve got to do something about that then,” Cosgrove said.

“It’s not yours until it’s here.”

Mark Emmert — 791-6424

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH

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